Cherchez La Trucker: Sometimes, It Really Is That Obvious.

By Michael GrossmanMarch 28, 2017Reading Time: 5 minutes

Grossman Law has worked hundreds of truck-accident cases, and seen reports of thousands more. While they're not the only kind of case the firm handles, it's still a category in which far too many collisions occur. A runaway truck is a 40-ton, 60-foot projectile, and the laws of physics are very unkind to just about anything that falls in its path. The stories of these accidents are almost always tragic, and our hearts hurt for every single victim.

There are occasions where an unpredictable condition causes these wrecks. Tires blow out on road debris, engines fail without warning, and inclement weather appears out of seemingly fair conditions, wreaking havoc on traffic (Texans are no strangers to seeing two to three kinds of weather in a given day). While we and many other injury firms take flak from the trucking industry as a whole--we are often pilloried for being "anti-trucker"--we are fully aware that many collisions are initially mysterious, and merit deep, thorough investigation.

We entirely agree that the answer is not always "blame the trucker," but whether you're a truck accident lawyer, an honest truck driver, or a member of the general public, we all have an interest in making sure that dangerous truck drivers are not on the roads. Sometimes, though, it's glaringly obvious that a dangerous truck driver caused an accident. Case in point: a recent 18-wheeler crash in Texas.

Odessa, TX: March 22, 2017

According to authorities, the collision occurred just before 6 p.m. in southeast Odessa, around the intersection of Interstate 20 and Grandview Avenue. On arriving at the scene, police and fire personnel found that an eastbound Chevy Malibu had been rear-ended by a Freightliner tractor-trailer that failed to control its speed.

Police released information about the occupants of all the vehicles involved in the collision:

  • The Chevy Malibu was operated by Elvia Soto-Castaneda, 30. Her unnamed passengers were listed as a 12-year-old male (front passenger), an 11-year-old female (back left passenger), a 1-year-old male (back middle passenger), and a 13-year-old female (back right passenger). Officers report that all parties in the car were wearing their seat belts.
    All occupants of the Malibu were taken to nearby Medical Center Hospital in Odessa with bodily injuries. From there, the 11-year-old girl and the 13-year-old boy were transported by air to Lubbock for critical care; the other three patients' injuries, while serious, were deemed non-life-threatening. They have since been released, and the young girl and boy have been listed in stable condition.

     

  • The Freightliner truck was occupied by 3 adults--the driver, 28-year-old Irving Dominguez, and his two passengers: Jesus Santiestaban (26) and Juan Arzate (23).

Investigators suggest that the tractor-trailer was speeding at the time that it collided with the back of the Malibu, causing it to collide with a GMC Sierra in front of it on the interstate. The inhabitants of the Sierra were not injured. Irving Dominguez was arrested by responding officers for Driving While License Invalid with Prior Convictions, a Class B misdemeanor.

Portrait of a Dangerous Driver

In a perfect world, every logistics firm and trucking company would perform careful, rigorous background checks on its drivers to make sure that only the best candidates operate 18-wheelers in their fleet. This goal, or one like it, is actually one of the guiding principles of hiring in almost any industry; it's important to weed out candidates who could pose hazards to themselves or others--or more cynically, the bottom line. However, the stakes are a little higher when you're putting someone behind a steering wheel as opposed to a desk. A documented history of substance abuse or dangerous traffic infractions isn't just a red flag, it's a giant flashing neon-red beacon.

However--and I don't expect a lot of pushback for saying this--we don't live in a perfect world. I'm not keen to unpack all the ways I could possibly mean that, so let's stick to how it applies to the topic at hand. Whether it registers or not, we've probably all noticed the hiring ads that are almost always attached to the trailers on big rigs: "NOW HIRING DEPENDABLE DRIVERS," "JOIN THE WINNING TEAM," et cetera, ad infinitum. The trucking industry demands a lot from drivers, and there's usually room for more bodies in almost every fleet. That need stems from the public's perpetual demand for consumer goods: A Walmart in Tucson needs a fresh shipment of Clorox Wipes to restock its shelves. Toys R Us, inexplicably still operating physical stores, is running dangerously low on Pokémon card packs and Star Wars action figures. Target is hemorrhaging tube socks and needs replacements. It's bedlam!

What I'm getting at here is that in order to land more contracts and keep up with existing ones, trucking firms aren't always as selective as best practices would have them be. Unless an application loaded with words like "felony assault," "possession of narcotics," or "Steelers fan," some ethically-deficient firms will hire a candidate on the strength of 2 major attributes:

  1. Has a CDL (though apparently an active one isn't always necessary), and
  2. Has a pulse.

That's why a driver whose history is so checkered by infractions that his license was suspended by the state managed to be barreling down the interstate on that fateful day in Odessa. It's how drivers across the country are hauling freight, be it trivial to critical, without passing the various health and safety requirements supposedly regulated by their industry. It's often found when investigating truck accidents that a driver has a checkered past, and in many cases it would seem his or her employer did not exercise an appropriate standard of care during the hiring process. Either he misrepresented his credentials, which should have been found out while screening him, or his employers knew his license was suspended and thought "Eh, what's the worst that could happen?"

What Can We Take Away from This?

Grossman Law is occasionally contacted by good, law-abiding truckers with clean driving histories and and active licenses who believe we are trying to condemn their chosen professional as a whole. I can see how a broad reading of some of our content might convey this, but it simply isn't true. We enormously respect and appreciate the millions of excellent professionals on the road, and we are conscious that it is through their efforts that we are able to enjoy many of the comforts of modern living. For the work of these real professionals, we are highly grateful. The trucking industry isn't an impeccable monolith, though. The driver in Odessa and others like him that ignore personal and public safety by getting distracted at interstate-level speeds and willingly breaking the law with invalid licenses...while I won't presume to cast judgment on his overall moral character or aspects of his life outside his professional performance, I will say that he typifies the sort of driver who shouldn't be behind the wheel. Drivers like that are responsible for the disproportionate number of truck accidents where the trucker is found to be at fault.

The whole point of licensing drivers is to ensure that they show a certain minimum level of competency. That bar is naturally raised for commercial vehicle operators, as a greater standard of care is generally expected of anyone performing an activity in a professional capacity. Commercial drivers are required to obtain special training and licensure to reflect their understanding of the greater burden that befalls them. When they ignore these statutory licensing requirements, they place themselves above the law. Operating outside regulations, they are beyond the reach of the very safeguards that protect us.

If those proactive measures aren't enough to stop scofflaw drivers, the law must employ reactive methods to punish them for causing accidents and provide remedy to their victims. This is why truck accident attorneys help the victims with their claims. People may dislike personal injury lawsuits; we may disagree with their reasoning, but certainly can't insist they change their minds. Can anyone really expect, though, that people who have been failed by the licensure system designed to protect them will entrust their well-being to the same system that can't keep these drivers off the road?